Comparing Women By Henry James And Charlotte Perkins Gilman

2656 words - 11 pages

Comparing Women by Henry James and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In American literature, women have been portrayed differently depending on the sex and race of the author. Henry James who wrote “Daisy Miller: A Study” (1878) characterized Daisy as a tramp who breaks expatriate social customs. When a male writes about a woman, she is sometimes portrayed as a troublemaker and often up to no good. On the other hand, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), the narrator is trapped by domestic life. When a woman writes about women, they are usually victims of their society. James and Gilman each seem to display women differently because of their own sex, personal preferences, and experiences.

Henry James, a white male, shows the reader what happens to a young lady when she isn’t conservative and goes around town with men without supervision. Daisy Miller was perceived as a tramp because of her actions and the society during this time period. The main character of “Daisy Miller: A Study” (1978) is Miss Daisy Miller, an American girl, who is traveling with her mother and brother in Vevey and Rome. Throughout her traveling, Daisy’s actions were considered inappropriate for a young unmarried woman. During her first visit to Vevey, she began to converse with Winterbourne, an American male that is visiting his aunt in Vevey, without a chaperone. In Vevey at this particular time, it was very inappropriate for a girl to talk to a man unattended by either a chaperone or her mother. James states, “In Geneva, as he had been perfectly aware, a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady…he wondered if he had gone too far; but he decided that he must advance farther, rather than retreat” (471). Even though Winterbourne knew that talking to Daisy was inappropriate, he decided to address her anyway. Daisy also went against the social norms of the society when she began to talk to Winterbourne (472). James is displaying Daisy as a tramp because she is traveling around and talking to Winterbourne when she should be a conservative woman who stays with her mother or only goes out with a chaperone.

Critics of this writing think that James created a character that makes the reader think about whether she is really innocent or not. Carol Ohmann shows that James displays Daisy this way on purpose so that we as the readers can argue whether Daisy is really innocent and just naïve. In “Daisy Miller: A Study of Changing Intentions,” Ohmann writes,
Taking Daisy with appreciation and without alarm, we also re-read her character and re-evaluate her moral status. We (the readers) seem to meet James’ sophistication with out own, by agreeing on a mixed interpretation of Daisy: she is literally innocent, but she is also ignorant and incautious. (1)

Ohmann is explaining that James shows Daisy in such a way that the reader is constantly trying to figure if she really is innocent and/or if she just ignorant and does as...

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